Why Go on a Summer School?

Girl reading book on grass with students in background
Image Copyright Oxford Royale 2013 – All Rights Reserved

Any bright and conscientious student strives to do well at school and in their exams, but it can sometimes be difficult to know what to do to set yourself apart from the crowd.

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This is particularly true of the fiercely competitive world of university applications, when you’re competing with numerous other candidates who all have the same exam grades as you.
How do you get your application noticed among so many others? One way of making your application a little different from the rest is by attending a summer school. Not only does this help you stand out, but it adds value in many other ways. In this article, we’ll take you through the multitude of benefits that attending a summer school can bring you, and as you’ll discover, their value goes way beyond the obvious.

What is a summer school?

A summer school – or summer enrichment, as it’s known in America – is a course, usually lasting a week or more, during which those in attendance are generally offered intensive tuition in certain subjects, combined with extracurricular activities. As the name suggests, these courses typically take place over the summer between school or university terms. They are usually residential.

Reasons you might want to attend a summer school

We’ll cover the specific academic, social and career benefits of attending a summer school a little later in this article, but for now let’s look at some of the reasons why people often choose to attend a summer school or summer enrichment programme.
– To improve your grades – perhaps the most obvious reason for attending a summer school is to give yourself a better chance of doing well in your exams. The extra tuition will help cement what you’ve learned at school and build on it, giving you deeper knowledge to draw upon in an exam context.
– To brush up on a subject you’re not confident about – summer schools are a great way of getting up to speed on a subject you’re not confident about but that you need to do well in. If, for example, you’re really struggling with maths, but a good grade in maths is essential for admission to your chosen degree, a summer school would help you reach the required level of competency.
– To prepare for a university application and/or entrance exam – if you’re looking for ways to strengthen your university application with relevant academic achievements, or you’re in the midst of preparing to take a university entrance exam such as the SAT, there are summer schools available to help put you in a stronger position with both (you can see our university preparation courses here).
– To develop English skills – a popular reason for overseas students to take a summer school programme in the UK is to develop their verbal and written English skills, either because they need stronger English skills in order to apply to an English-speaking university, or simply because they want to become fluent. A summer school can also help overseas students develop their academic vocabulary to help support them in writing essays and theses when they get to university.

Image shows a winding strip of loose film.
Not many secondary schools offer lessons in film making. But we do!

– To make the next school year a bit easier – if you’re new to the subjects you have lined up for the next academic year, taking a summer school and studying these subjects prior to the new term is a great way of familiarising yourself with these new subjects and giving yourself a head start, thereby lightening your workload when you go back to school.
– To study a subject not available in school – not all schools offer every course you might have an interest in studying; for example, many don’t offer Classical Civilisations. By going on a summer school, you’ll be able to pursue your interests and gain some experience in subjects you wouldn’t normally have access to. This is excellent preparation if you want to take a degree in a subject you’ve not studied before, but your school doesn’t offer it.
Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to attend a summer school or summer enrichment programme – some may simply want something to occupy them over the long summer holiday!

The academic benefits

It goes without saying that the academic value of a summer school is significant, whether it’s aimed at helping lower-achieving pupils improve their grades or coaching the brightest pupils for entrance to top universities. For the summer schools targeted to the highest-achieving pupils, successful admission is dependent on being able to prove academic merit with evidence such as good grades and strong references from teachers. For these brightest of students, an academic summer school offers many opportunities that will help propel them to new heights.
Intensive tuition
A summer school provides a scholarly environment in which the focus is to learn. The intensive study keeps up the learning momentum and you completely immerse yourself in a subject or subjects for days or even weeks at a time. The result is a solid grounding in what you’ve studied and a deeper knowledge than those among your peers who haven’t been on a summer school.
Develop academic skills

Image shows a view over Oxford's dreaming spires.
The chance to study in Oxford‘s ancient colleges is unusual and to be cherished.

The summer school environment, with its intensive tuition and small study groups, is geared towards helping students develop valuable academic skills that are vital for university success. This could be anything from being able to engage in academic arguments and debates, right down to practical skills such as essay writing and exam technique.
Unique educational environment
A summer school offers a very special educational environment; one that allows students’ scholarly sides to flourish. In a summer school, you’re in an academic bubble away from normal school deadlines, and you’re surrounded by other people who are just as interested in learning as you are – so you won’t have any distractions from disruptive classmates who don’t want to be there, as you would in school. Many find these surroundings a refreshing change from school life, and it’s excellent preparation for university as well as being somewhere for students to unleash their ‘geeky’ side without worrying what other people think.
Furthermore, some summer schools offer the exceptional opportunity to study in the buildings and facilities of world-class universities, an opportunity that is otherwise not available to most teens.
Demonstrating your enthusiasm
Attending a summer school is a great way to demonstrate your enthusiasm for a subject to the universities you intend to apply for. Not only will it look good on your university application if you’ve attended a summer school to build on skills and knowledge relevant to the course you want to study, but you’ll also be better prepared to write an interesting personal statement, with insightful comments about your subject. If you’re applying for a university or course for which applicants are interviewed, a summer school can also help equip you with the skills and knowledge you need in order to shine at interview.


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The social benefits

The value of attendance at a summer school goes beyond the obvious academic benefits, helping students develop valuable life skills.
Make new friends
One of the primary social benefits of going on a summer school is that it enables you to make lots of new friends. The small tuition groups and residential nature of a summer school allow you to get to know your fellow students both in the classroom and outside it, and many students find they form firm friendships with their coursemates. What’s more, summer schools are often attended by students from all over the world, resulting in a cosmopolitan environment and friendships formed with people of many nationalities.
Develop social skills
Summer schools typically offer tuition in small groups, a setting in which even the more shy students are able to speak out and offer their ideas and opinions to a group discussion. Mixing with peers from all walks of life and multiple nationalities, you’ll learn to interact with people from different backgrounds, and you’ll develop confidence just from being away from home in a new place – perhaps even a new country.
Recreational activities and sightseeing

Image shows the city of Oxford, seen from South Park, at sunset.
Attending an ORA summer school gives you the chance to explore the beautiful city of Oxford.

Summer schools generally offer a range of recreational activities to help students unwind after studying hard, and typically this will include the chance to see the sights of the local area or even further afield. For students from overseas, a summer school is a fantastic opportunity to combine academic studying with the chance to be a tourist in a foreign country, in the process learning about its culture and gaining valuable life experience.

The career benefits

The value of a summer school doesn’t end with its benefits to your school work, university applications and social life. It also has positive repercussions on your career.
A stronger CV
You can put on your CV that you’ve attended an academic summer school, listing some of the skills it taught you, as well as how it helped you perform better academically.
Access to better universities
Because of the knowledge and skills you’ll pick up on your summer school, and the valuable preparation it can offer for university, you’ll potentially have access to better universities, with better grades and a stronger application with which to apply to the top ones. This has a direct impact on your CV, as being able to put a very well-respected university on your CV will create a favourable impression with a potential employer.
Transferable skills
Summer schools help develop transferable skills – that is, skills that can be usefully employed in different environments, such as the workplace. An example of a transferable skill might be what’s commonly known as ‘people’ skills, or the ability to interact well with other people. This is a vital life skill and particularly important in a job setting. Other examples of transferable skills might be time management, organisation and written English skills – all things you’ll need and improve on a summer school.
An edge over your peers

Image shows the dining hall of Keble College, Oxford.
It’s not unheard of for students with straight A*s to get multiple rejections, so it’s important to do everything you can to make your application stand out.

With so much competition for university places and then jobs, it can be difficult to make your CV stand out from the crowd. Attending a summer school adds a valuable extra string to your bow, with many benefits you can talk about in your university or job application. In a marketplace in which universities or employers may see dozens of applications from similarly qualified applicants, your attendance at a summer school could mean the difference between a successful application and an unsuccessful one, simply because it differentiates you with added skills and experience.

The universities’ perspective

University tutors frequently complain that students are not being adequately prepared for the academic rigour required at university because they are simply being spoon-fed only what they need in order to pass an exam. Teachers are under ever-increasing pressure to meet targets, while many argue that the exams themselves have been ‘dumbed down’ in order to make it look as though more people are passing with top grades. This means that students are starting university without a thorough grounding in their chosen subject, meaning they must put in extra work to reach the required level. This is why universities are likely to be impressed by students who’ve gone to the effort of attending a summer school, the educational environment of which encourages them to progress beyond the basic requirements of the syllabus needed to pass an exam.

Summer schools are a lot of fun, too!

There can be little doubt that summer schools bring the students who attend them a whole host of benefits, far beyond the academic knowledge they ostensibly offer. But as well as developing academic and social skills, and being an excellent thing to have on your CV, it should also be remembered that summer schools are tremendous fun! Bright students relish the academically challenging environment a summer school provides, but will revel in the socialising as well, because coursemates are like-minded people – people who, like you, want to succeed and want to give themselves the best possible start in life.
Here at Oxford Royale Summer Schools, we run courses for students aged 13-18 in the historic city of Oxford – and you can’t get much more scholarly than that. If you’d like to find out more about what Oxford Royale Summer Schools summer schools involve, start by finding out more about us here.

Image credits: film; All Souls; Oxford; dining hall